I’m a fourth generation born-and-raised New Yorker but I can no longer afford to stay here comfortably. I’ve lived in Long Island, less than an hour outside of Manhattan, my entire 32 years. When my working-class parents ascended to middle-class status, they moved us out to the suburbs, escaping the crime-ridden, decaying New York City of the 1980s. At the time, home ownership was not out of reach for couples with median-income jobs.
Although not rich in material possessions, I was grateful for my upbringing and wasn’t looking to move far away. I attended a local college and worked in my community after graduation and throughout my 20s, diligently saving money with the intent of climbing the same middle-class mountain as my parents; maybe even scaling a little higher.
Last year, I took a slightly higher paying job in Manhattan but decided to remain in Long Island and commute by train. I valued having the best of both settings: experiencing the city’s energy by day and coming home to quiet suburbia each night. Since moving out my parents’ house, I began renting an apartment in Port Washington, on the edge of Nassau County and Queens. I pay nearly $400 a month getting to-and-from work each day. Although I make a decent income by New York State standards, the increasingly high rent on top of multiple bills leaves me with little savings and disposable income. I’ve considered moving to the city but my friends living in Queens, Brooklyn, Manhattan, The Bronx, and Jersey City are all similarly struggling.
As I’ve entered my 30s, I’ve started to view home ownership as a wiser investment than throwing away money on rent. But as I began looking at houses in Long Island, I was disappointed to find that most homes were completely out of my price range. In an average, middle-class neighborhood, homes were priced at $500,000 and up — plus $10-14,000 annually in property taxes. It’s become painfully evident that sustaining a life in the Empire State is nearly impossible.
In recent years, I’ve seen both single and married friends move away to a variety of cities: Chattanooga, Miami, Cleveland, Kansas City, Austin. All of them have been able to afford big, beautiful homes and condominiums on smaller salaries than they were making back home. None of them yearn to return. They sometimes confess to a longing for more exotic restaurants or museums or walkable landscapes, but the trade-off for cheaper living outweighs those unnecessary desires. I’m told each city has their own budding art scene that suffices cravings for culture and leisure experiences.
I feel like one of the last holdouts, sentimental about my home city and state, but constantly questioning why I’m still here if there’s no hope for an affordable future. Am I buying into my romantic belief that Gotham is the greatest city bar none? Have I listened to Frank Sinatra’s rendition of “New York, New York” too many times? Time Out just named New York #1 on The 48 best cities in the world in 2019, encouraging outsiders to enter as I sneer in resentment at the same city that’s pushing me out.
In the most recent data published by the US Census Bureau, New York State saw the biggest exodus in residents than any other state between July 2017 and July 2018, with over 48,000 people leaving. Although New York City continues to grow in population, with a half-million increase since 2010, the rate of people fleeing the Big Apple increased to 131 daily by 2017. With residents coming and going, I often wonder how many of us consider ourselves actual New Yorkers.
At my job, almost none of my co-workers are originally from the tri-state area. They hail from different parts of the country and are apartment dwellers, urban professionals only living to support themselves with no immediate plans for further life development. They don’t bother me. They’re all here for career advancement and to soak up the city’s energy, an energy that may not exist where they come from. New York has always attracted outsiders, after all. It was founded on the idea of “making it” and continues to depend on that belief.
I’ll be honest — I’m sad at the thought of leaving. I worry of becoming bored elsewhere. But unfortunately, I feasibly can’t continue on in New York for much longer. Even my parents are considering selling my childhood home and moving elsewhere, as they too feel the financial chokehold strengthen. I believed I could obtain the same quality of life as they did for me, but if they no longer have stability, and I can’t even achieve the first part, we may find ourselves living together again real soon.
Raj Tawney is a journalist in New York with recent contributions to the New York Daily News, Newsday, Miami Herald, and the Television Academy of Arts & Sciences
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